" 'Last' need not mean that there was something before it." Is this true?

I asked a question in another SE network, about the expression "Last Judgment". The question assumes that if "last" is used in such expression, there must be a sequence of events of size larger than one, to which such event is the last one. However, I got this comment, which states:

'Last' need not mean that there was something before it. It can indicate that it is final with nothing to follow it.

Is this interpretation of "last" correct? Do you know of examples where "last N" is used to refer to an instance of N which has cardinality of one?

I looked at the ODO but to me this expression seems to be always used in reference to a series of events. As an adjective, points 1 and 2 are clear. Point 3 refers to most recent in time, or latest, but this seems to be about past events. The Last Judgment is always referring to a future, never to the past. Same conclusion follows when "last" used as an adverb.

• Well, theology aside, the last book I wrote is also the only book that I wrote is valid English, so.... Sep 27, 2017 at 12:33
• I also think a dictionary can answer your question. Unless you want someone to examine the (actual) OED. But this question could easily fall back upon theology, which would be be off-topic here, one supposes. Sep 27, 2017 at 12:38
• Why don't you ask the person who wrote that comment to provide an example? Sep 27, 2017 at 12:39
• The shoemaker was uncertain whether his last would last long enough for him to say "Finished at last!" Sep 28, 2017 at 1:02
• @HotLicks but that use of last is entirely different from the one in the Last Judgment. Sep 28, 2017 at 7:03

It is possible to say last where there is only one, the point being made is that there will not be another one.

That's the last time I'm going there for dinner.

It may be the last of many, but it may be the first and last.

The first and last time I ever tried to dance a fandango naked while balancing a dozen gherkins on my head was in Llandudno in 1985.

It can also be used in the sense of final.

It is the last word in style.

means nothing more stylish can be imagined.

The Last Judgement may mean the final judgement, the last word on the matter. There may have been earlier judgements, but if so they would be provisional, as they could be changed at the final judgement.

It is like saying

I've made a final decision. I'm having the fishcakes.

It doesn't mean that there was an earlier decision, it just means that the decision is now made and that it will not change.

A last judgement is like a final decision.

(Note- this is not to say that is what it means in the theological context you are interested in, but it is a valid meaning in English.)

• "It is the last word in style." Last is being used here as "latest" or "most recent", not as "the definitive end". That seems to go out of scope for the OP's question. I agree with the other examples though. Sep 28, 2017 at 8:40

The determiner and adjective usages of last need to be distinguished.

The determiner usage identifies the referent as being the one after which no other similar member of a sequence has occurred / will occur.

She was the last person to leave.

Even this usage doesn't demand more than one occurrence etc:

That's the last lift he's getting off me!

..........

The more adjectival usage refers to a wider temporal rather than sequential setting. There is often at least a strong connotation of a dramatic ending. AHD at the Free Dictionary has:

a. Of or relating to a terminal period or stage, as of life: the last days of the dinosaurs.

b. Administered just before death: the last sacraments.

and Collins (op cit)

1. (esp relating to the end of a person's life or of the world)

a. final or ultimate: last rites.

b. (capital): the Last Judgment.

Obviously, there is no involvement of a direct sequencing in these examples.

• Thanks. Having the last sacrament necessitates to have had a previous one (Holy Communion). But I see the point. Sep 28, 2017 at 7:14
• Yes; there's doubtless the usual cline involved, here between the senses 'position at the end of an obvious sequence' and 'relating to "the end" ', with various sub-senses appearing at various places along the continuum. Sep 28, 2017 at 8:38